Sunday, March 31, 2013

Huh, ya think?

Ross Douthat:
"Yet for an argument that has persuaded so few, the conservative view has actually had decent predictive power. As the cause of gay marriage has pressed forward, the social link between marriage and childbearing has indeed weakened faster than before. As the public’s shift on the issue has accelerated, so has marriage’s overall decline.... 
"Correlations do not, of course, establish causation." (itals added)
But we needn't let such science-y nitpicking spoil a good piece of mindless bloviating, need we?

I do hope Douthat is correct when he frets that marriage equality is damn near inevitable. I like to think that this has something to do with it being so obviously good and fair, and so harmless even to those who personally find homosexuality icky. But perhaps it also reflects just how utterly lame some of the conservative arguments have been. My favorite is the claim, cited by Douthat in his column, that marriage is all about procreation. I actually have some sympathy for the notion that if the state has a legitimate interest in regulating the institution of marriage, it has something to do with children, aka procreation. The problem is that almost any nitwit understands that procreation is not mostly about fertilizing an ovum by sticking a convex body part into a concave body part, fun as that may be. It is, rather, mostly to do with the complex and resource-intensive process of raising to adulthood the next generation of functional human beings. This usually takes a little more time and commitment than the initial sticking in and out of body parts. In this view, marriage is about honoring and facilitating this commitment. Hard to believe heterosexuals have a monopoly on that.

Pacific Mambo Orchestra

Chuy Varela gave their new album a nice plug on KCSM this week. They sound fantastic. The economics of a big band, salsa or otherwise, can't be all that favorable, so get out and support them. Wish I knew how to dance, but listening is good too.

In the garden

This year I planted some baby blue eyes (Nemophila menziesii) and tidy tips (Layia platyglossa) in the front yard, both of them common California natives. The results have been most satisfactory. Cultivation is not difficult: (1) throw seeds on ground; (2) add rain. Well, it being a dry year, I cheated and gave the seedlings a spritz from the hose once. These guys are thriving in the worst possible soil: basically gravel fill above the sewer line.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Nice Work, v. 1

Not many singers could hold a candle to Frank, but Peggy Lee was pretty close. Here they kind of circle around each other and never quite engage. Too bad.


Lagunitas WTF, that is. A very tasty ale offering up a snootful of floral/citrus hops. When you can drink a pint of this at a bar for under $6, why ever order wine?

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Elephant is Slow to Mate

D.H. Lawrence's poems, like everything else he wrote, it seems, displeased the censors. I rather like his poems. The embarrassing ardor and earnestness of his prose works are often tempered here by a sense of humor pitched somewhere between childlike amusement and adolescent leering. But make no mistake: the ardor remains...

The elephant, the huge old beast,
   is slow to mate;
he finds a female, they show no haste
   they wait

for the sympathy in their vast shy hearts
   slowly, slowly to rouse
as they loiter along the river-beds
   and drink and browse

and dash in panic through the brake
   of forest with the herd,
and sleep in massive silence, and wake
   together, without a word.

So slowly the great hot elephant hearts
  grow full of desire,
and the great beasts mate in secret at last,
   hiding their fire.

Oldest they are and the wisest of beasts
   so they know at last
how to wait for the loneliest of feasts
   for the full repast.

They do not snatch, they do not tear;
   their massive blood
moves as the moon-tides, near,
   more near till they touch in flood.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

That sound

Back in college, Dexter Gordon's album "Homecoming" was one of my faves. That fat, beautiful tenor sound, unmistakable, the way he played behind the beat, almost lazy, yet still full of energy and authority. An underrated master.

Update: Title change because "the sound" already taken by Stan Getz. Hat tip to TC.

Springtime in the chaparral

Foothills Park is a little gem on the eastern slopes of the Santa Cruz mountains. The park is owned by the City of Palo Alto, and only residents of PA and their guests are permitted to visit the park. Sigh. Seems like everyone who wants to should have the opportunity to hike the Los Trancos trail in late March.

Jim brush (ceanothus) with a new-leafing oak...

Henderson's shooting stars exploiting the sunshine along the trailside...

Bush poppy (Dendromecon rigida) is not that common, but makes sure you won't overlook it this time of year...

A hummingbird visits some paintbrush...

Some kind of penstemon, I guess...

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Bowie has always looked good...

... great, in fact. Too bad he hasn't usually sounded better.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Spring is here, I hear

Spring in northern California is too lovely... it ought to be a crime. But Lorenz, Richard, and Frank can take us down a peg or two.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Happy Birthday, JSB

Somehow I think the greatest composer who ever lived would have appreciated the very catchy adaptation of a minuet he might have written (but didn't) by a black girl group from Jamaica, NY, done in 4/4 time no less.

Men losing ground

"The decline of two-parent households may be a significant reason for the divergent fortunes of male workers, whose earnings generally declined in recent decades, and female workers, whose earnings generally increased, a prominent labor economist argues in a new survey of existing research" (NY Times, March 20). That economist, David Autor, is certainly a far better economist than I am, but I have some doubts about this explanation for the declining fortunes of guys.

For one thing, some of the most dramatic "symptoms" of men falling behind women are nearly universal global phenomena, not just the product of U.S. cultural trends. Women's college enrollment has caught up and surpassed men's in most countries, and this includes countries that do not on the face of it share the social and cultural trends blamed here. As I wrote in a letter to the editor I submitted to the Times:
The argument that cultural trends, such as rising single parenthood, explain why women are now much more likely to attend college than men must address the fact that the reversal of the gender gap in higher education is a global phenomenon (“Study of Men’s Falling Income,” March 20). According to the World Bank, in 2010 female tertiary enrollment exceeded that of males by 8 percent globally; whereas in 1980 women were 17% less likely than men to be in college. A wide range of countries and cultures participated in this trend: it is very similar whether one restricts the sample to Europe, or to East Asian and Pacific countries, or to the Middle East and North Africa. Are all of these places “coming apart”?
For another thing, single parenthood and absent fathers are, as Professor Autor would teach his students, "endogenous" to inequality trends (causality runs both ways). Or, as Christopher Jencks puts it at the end of the news article: “Single-parent families tend to emerge in places where the men already are a mess... You have to ask yourself, ‘Suppose the available men were getting married to the available women? Would that be an improvement?’ ”

"Instead of making marriage more attractive, he said, it might be better for society to help make men more attractive."

Good luck with that.

My relationship with Google

I often joke that Google controls my life, but it's only half a joke. This blog is on Google; I have two gmail accounts, one personal and one for work (my employer just moved to a gmail system); I just moved my home page off the work server to a Google site to save myself the trouble of dealing with Dreamweaver; I keep a Google calendar and put pictures on Picasa.

I don't really trust Google, but I rely on them, which may be a mistake. Ezra Klein, following up on a post by James Fallows, wonders whether adoption of tempting new Google apps is a good idea. Like others, I have been a steady user of Google Reader, the news and blog feed, which the G-people recently announced will be gone as of July. Another product I use constantly that Google is phasing out is iGoogle, which basically was a simple way to customize a start-up page, with gadgets for (alas) Reader and other sites and utilities. Soon to be gone.

We all know that Google is collecting massive amounts of data from us, and is eagerly trying to make money from it. I'm not entirely comfortable with that, but on the other hand I find it somewhat reassuring to know that their motive is not pure evil, but simply filthy lucre. Nothing new or unusual there. I can deal with the tradeoff between exploiting their technology and being exploited by it. But as Fallows and Klein point out, the tradeoff becomes a lot less attractive if Google fails to keep up their end of the bargain.

You FSA/OWI Photo of the Day

Aluminum for defense. Nez Perce, Idaho. Russell Lee. 1941.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013


Anna's hummingbirds sip a lot of nectar, of course, but they also eat insects and spiders, which may help explain why I so frequently observe them hovering near thick vines and shrubs along the fence, far from the nearest flower. And they obviously get more than a meal from the spiders, since the nest relies heavily on pilfered webs for its construction and anchoring. Stunning.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

"Clean coal"

It's hard to know where to begin with the latest piece of crap about climate and energy by the Times's Joe Nocera. Well, here's one place. After applauding the alleged environmental benefits of coal gasification, he asks, "So who could possibly be against coal gasification and carbon capture?" Oh yes, well, the rate payers, because "clean coal" evidently does not pass a cost benefit analysis, and someone will have to pay for it. And then there are irrational environmentalists like Bill McKibben, whose "crusade has blinded him to the real problem." Nevermind that McKibben so far has shown a better understanding of the economics than Nocera. But then, too, there's this:... what environmentalist could possibly object to clean coal?

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Passito di Pantelleria...

... is a fizzy red dessert wine made in Sicily from muscat grapes. Like grape soda for grown-ups. Really tasty grape soda.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013


Father Michael Engh, the president of my university, writes, "Along with Jesuits and colleagues around the world, we celebrate the election of Cardinal Jorge Maria Bergoglio as Pope Francis I. As a man committed to social justice, he shares the ideals of our own institution."

With due respect, his ideals are not consistently the ones to which I hope my own institution aspires. Setting aside the controversies over his relationship with the Argentine junta, we have this:

"In recent years, Cardinal Bergoglio has clashed with the Argentine government, particularly former President Néstor Kirchner and his successor and widow, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, about issues like gay marriage, abortion and the adoption of children by gay couples. In 2010, he described a government-supported law to legalize marriage and adoption by same-sex couples as 'a war against God' and 'a maneuver by the devil.'"

Committed to social justice? Justice for whom? No more tolerance of intolerance and bigotry.

Friday, March 8, 2013

My new course,

Data Analysis and Econometrics, is bound to become the hottest class on campus. Nothing impresses that special someone like murmuring in her/his ear, "Baby, I know how to program R to correct regression standard errors for heteroskedasticity."

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Is there any connection...

... between Rupert Pupkin and Artie Fufkin?


Lula finds many kind words for Hugo Chávez, and one suspects that such a corrective to his legacy is called for, given the demonization of Chávez in the American media over the years. Yet one must also wonder where Venezuela would be today had Chávez shared Lula's pragmatism and basic commitment to democratic institutions.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Turn a fern

In spring, the underside is weird and wonderful.

Closer look...

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Fargo and Key Largo...

... were both a lot better than Argo. I have not seen Cargo or Embargo, so I wouldn't want to make any rash generalizations, but I can certainly say that of the three nominees for best picture that I saw, Argo was by far the worst. Basically, it is a bore. Maybe I am missing something.